1/72 A&A Models Northrop F-15 Reporter (aka photo-recon P-61 Black Widow)

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TbirdsRGo

Airman
59
80
Jan 17, 2021
Finally, an injection-molded kit of the rather curious Northrop F-15 Reporter photo-recon aircraft!
A&A Models in Ukraine just released this 1/72 kit this summer (2024) and have announced that it's twin, the XP-61E long-range escort fighter is coming soon.
I'm sure I'm not the only modeler who has been waiting for this moment since sometime in the previous century...
Anyway, it's here and my first impression is that it will build up into a great representative model.
It is not without it's faults, but it seems to have "good bones".
The Lonestar 1/48 F-15 conversion has been out of production for a while and now seems to be more of a "collector's item", so 1/72 is clearly the way to go. Besides, these are pretty big aircraft.
 

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Here are pictures of the box contents:
178 plastic pieces molded in grey plastic.
Beautiful decals.
PE sheet includes instrument panels, harnesses, filtered air screens.
 

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The general shape of the central fuselage looks representative compared to photos although I do not have any reliable factory drawings to compare to.
The rest of the model appears to be based on the 1/72 DML P-61 Black Widow, which is a good starting point.
I am in the middle of building a 1/72 DML P-61A model and these are clearly the same parts other than the turbocharged P-61C style cowlings. I have not been able to find any information on a DML P-61C, so maybe the turbo parts are new. In any case, the DML Black Widow builds up into a pretty good model so most of the focus should be on the central fuselage.
There are dozens of details regarding the F-15 family of aircraft that A&A either left out or got wrong, but they are minor. Mostly it revolves around the aft navigator's station, which is totally wrong, but these are pretty small details in 1/72 scale. The rest of the aircraft is pretty good. Hopefully they will fix some of these problems before releasing the XP-61E.
 
Northrop never built a plain F-15 Reporter aircraft. First there was the XF-15, then the XF-15A, then the F-15A, but this model will allow you to build any of the "F-15 family" if you desire because it includes both the non-turbocharged cowlings with the narrow prop blades and spinners and the turbocharged cowlings with the fat prop blades. The other differences between the different versions were small. The P-61C, XF-15A and F-15A aircraft also had a spinner with a larger diameter and different shape than the P-61/A/B. So if you are building one of the turbocharged F-15 aircraft then you need to source a new pair of spinners. P-51D spinners are a decent match. The earlier non-turbo Black Widow spinners were similar to Fw190 spinners as they had a cylindrical section aft of the prop. The turbo versions had spinners that had a slope along the whole length, resulting in a smaller opening for cooling air.
 
Regarding the outfitting of the aft navigator's station, it needs to be completely redone to be accurate. The side panels, equipment, and aft bulkhead provided are incorrect for an F-15 Reporter. The good new is that there isn't much you need to remove. The DML P-61 kit that this is based on doesn't have much detail for the gunner's compartment anyway. The DML kit, BTW, is based on the old 1/48 Monogram Black Widow kit. I know this because I am working on one of those as well as the DML kit and the A&A kit! The Hobby Boss 1/48 P-61A kit, on the other hand, I have given up on and am going to sell. Nice looking kit, but not representative of the actual aircraft. The HB P-61B appears to be an improvement but I have not seen it in person.
 
The model provides a full instrument panel and rudder pedals for the navigator's station but this is incorrect. It should have some basic instruments, no rudder pedals, and a fixed control yoke similar to the pilot's control yoke. It should also have a rather obvious driftmeter to the left of the navigator's seat and an armored head protection plate. It should not have a seat with armrests or a gunnery station since the F-15s were unarmed. If you specifically want to build the XF-15A, then the navigator probably had a joystick rather than a control yoke (steering column) as it would have inherited this from the XP-61E configuration.
 
Another nit is that the F-15 Reporter family did not have an entry/exit hatch through the nose gear well. A&A missed the boat on that one. The crew entered via a deployable hatch on the port side just aft of the wing. Instead of the nose well hatch and ladder of the early P-61 series, it had a fixed floor with a bulge for the nose wheel. It must have been a little tricky for the pilot to enter and exit the cockpit since his seat was well within the large windscreen - he sat forward of the bubble canopy itself.
Which brings me to another aspect of the P-61 design. The nose well hatch is sometimes referred to as an escape hatch, but you would have to successfully extend the nose gear before exiting in that direction. That seems unlikely in the event the aircraft needs to be evacuated, unless it just ran out of fuel. Meanwhile, exiting out the upper canopy hatches in flight looks pretty scary for the two forward crew members. Lots of structure to hit on the way out.
 
Starting with the cockpit, the hatch part should be rounded off. There is enough plastic there as long as you are cautious.
The second photo shows the difference between the P-61A cockpit floor (above) and the F-15 floor. The forward end of the old hatch part will not be visible later.
The F-15 kit cockpit is pretty much the same as the P-61 kit except it eliminated the step up to the gunner's position.
 

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The A&A F-15 Reporter kit provides two nice instrument panels. PE fronts and decals for the instruments. The navigator's station does not need this instrument panel, so I used the extra one on my P-61A model instead. Add a plastic rod between the navigator's seat and the nosewheel bump for the control stick or column.
 

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Adding the crew entrance stairs at the rear of the aircraft helps explain how the crew got to the cockpit and also why the nosewheel hatch was no longer there.
The A&A Models plastic is the soft type and cuts easily. I will box this in somewhat and maybe add some radios or batteries in the compartment.
 

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Yeah, I love when kits come with PE instrument panels. Meanwhile, the Yahu pre-made instrument panels are incredible, but I don't think they have a P-61 panel.

One big difference between the DML P-61A kit and the A&A F-15 kit is the main gear bays.
The P-61A booms are solid at the top (you don't see the lower surface of the wing through them) and the only detail they have is on the sides. There are no bulkheads, either.
The F-15 booms are open at the top, so you do see the lower surface of the wing and the aft spar and they have both forward and aft bulkheads.
So if you are going to pose the main gear doors open, there's a fair amount of detail for 1/72 scale.
However, the F-15 (like that P-61B and later Black Widows) had the cyclic doors that mostly close after the landing gear is extended. Most photos of the F-15 show the main gear doors closed on the ground, except for the small outer door at the front (like a B-25). They probably opened the main doors for maintenance, however, and I've seen one photo that does show the doors fully open.
Since my P-61A model will have the doors fully open (as it should), I am swapping wings and booms between it and the F-15 model since it offers more detail. I am keeping the F-15 doors closed, but you could certainly model it either way if you wanted.
These photos show how it all fits together. I would suggest assembling the wings and then the booms without the forward bulkhead. The forward bulkhead should be added later because it affects the alignment of the boom to the wing. If you don't glue it in exactly the right spot, the boom and wing will not mate properly.
So build the wing, build the boom, then dry fit the bulkhead and attach them wing and boom. Come to think of it, you really don't even have to glue the bulkhead in because it will be trapped in place. Maybe just add a drop of glue to it after installation.
One nice thing DML did was to keep one end of the main landing gear sockets open so that you can attach the main gear legs AFTER assembling the boom. The Monogram P-61 required you to attach the gear leg when gluing the boom halves together. I think I am going to make this same mod to my Monogram kit, too.
 

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The instructions tell you to attach gunnery sight H10 to the aft seat but that is not appropriate for the unarmed F-15 family of aircraft.
The rear (navigator) seat also did not have sides and should pretty much look like the pilot's seat. They include some nice PE supports for the pilot seat (the navigator seat did not have this).
The aft bulkhead H27 should be replaced with a flat plate. It was mostly covered with fuse panels.
 

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The turbocharger housings are nicely modeled in several pieces.
The front opening is fresh air for turbocharger pre-heating. There was a heat exchanger to provide warm air going to the turbo when desired.
The side openings are exit ducts for the heat exchanger - I guess this is how they dump the air overboard if turbo pre-heat is not selected, but I couldn't find a good description of it.
The turbo exhaust pipe is also modeled. These faced aft and towards the center of the aircraft.
 

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The crew stairs door in progress. This was a common feature with the XP-61E.
I'm guessing that the tail cone on the XF-15A was painted yellow like the cowlings and spinners. Probably natural metal on the production F-15s.
 

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